Monday, 28 January 2013

Life drawing 28/1/13

Well, today was a new low. Nothing I drew today was very good, and some of it was shockingly bad. For the first time ever, I left during the break because I was sure I wasn't going to get any better. The best thing I did was a short one-minute sketch where I didn't look at the paper (the last one below). It's surprising how drawing like that can often turn out pretty good.

At first, I wasn't going to post them but then I thought if I'm going to show off my best stuff and be smug about it, then it's only right that I show off the worst.

Friday, 25 January 2013

The Curious Case of Watanabe Kinzou's House

In the years 1925-26, after the Great Kanto Earthquake, Watanabe went on a trip around the world. When he returned he began to renovate his building situated in the corner of a shopping distrcit in Fukagawa, Tokyo. He began in December 1927, but only gave verbal instructions to the carpenter – no blueprints were made – and work was frequently postponed while he made changes.

In August 1931, the building was completed but Watanabe soon began further construction work on the house. During this time, unable to tolerate his strange behaviour any more, his family left him, leaving him alone in the house with a maid. In the Spring of 1936, Watanabe offered to give up his free phone line, which was quite valuable. The authorities couldn't understand why, but they removed the telephone all the same. By chance, his estranged family heard about this, and thought it reason enough to hospitalise him. Two years later, his house was torn down.


The psychiatrist Shikiba Ryuzaburou wrote about it in a magazine in 1937, and these articles became a book, 「二笑亭綺譚」 (no official English translation, I'm afraid) which is now out of print. He tried to save the house, insisting it should remain standing as a work of art, but to no avail.

From the article on Wikipedia Japan, and other sources, I've collated this incomplete list of curiosities about the house.

The plot of land measured 95.7 tsubo (a tsubo is equal to 3.95 square yards or 3.31 square meters) but the floor space only added up 67 tsubo.

Despite being a two-storey wooden house, the storeroom and kitchen were made of steel.

Three large windows at the front on the second floor in a curious arrangement.

The ceiling of the entrance hall, just as you enter, went all the way up to the roof.

Hooks for hats and coats were placed in a haphazard manner, at a height of four metres.

The back gate was blocked by a diamond framework, so that it got in the way of anyone going out or coming in.

Detail from this source

Peep holes in the thick wooden fence around the house, made in the knots in the wood and filled with glass.

A Japanese-style bath and a Western-style bath next to each other

A ladder out of the roof that doesn't go anywhere

A titled set of shelves

Interior walls painted with a mixture that included insect repellant

A ladder in the storehouse that just went from floor to ceiling


Unusually shallow closets of just 30cm deep

The toilet is separated from the courtyard by only the lower half of a door

One source mentions many rooms that were unusable, but doesn't specify why. Or perhaps I've mistranslated.



I have followed the Japanese style of name order, such that Watanabe is the family name, and Kinzou was his given name.

Tuesday, 22 January 2013

Bank Robbers from the London School

On Sunday 9 March 1828, the Greenock bank in Glasgow was robbed. The method was very sophisticated, and the gang must have spent many months familiarising themselves with the bank and its routine. This was quite unusual for a robbery so far north, and since it was similar in method to those further south, people soon attributed it to the "London School."

And the whole plan, for all its complexity, relied on the fact that only one person guarded the bank on Sunday, and he regularly left the bank unattended for the whole of that day. The robbery itself was conducted with such care that no one realised it had been robbed until nine o'clock Monday morning.

They got away with £30,000 pounds which is worth £2m today (using the retail price index. Or an impressive £21m using the average earnings index) and the methods they used wouldn't be out of place in a modern day heist movie. They rented a flat in Glasgow and began their operations in November of the previous year. It was later surmised that, having made copies of keys for the outer doors, they must have spent many months breaking in every Sunday and gaining wax impressions of the locks inside the building.

Having spent many weeks observing from a nearby coffee shop that looked onto the bank, on the Sunday morning one member of the gang (who had never been to the shop) rushed in and asked in some agitation for recent copies of the Times. He claimed he'd heard a friend had died recently, and while the owner of the coffee shop was distracted, the rest of the gang entered the bank.

They even went so far as to block the keyhole of a safe with a ring, so it couldn't be opened and they could be sure of more time to escape before the crime had been discovered.

Once the robbery had been discovered, the bank sent out people to try and trace the gang's movements. They followed the trail as far Doncaster where it went cold. Later investigations uncovered their movements as far as Matlock, but that's as far as they could ascertain. It is assumed they went back to London, to "burrow themselves in the mass of human beings forming the population of the metropolis"

News of the robbery spread and the nature of the notes stolen (issued directly by the Greenock Bank) were communicated. This is probably why the first place the gangs went to after leaving Glasgow on Sunday afternoon was to Edinburgh and Leith, to exchange some of the notes on Monday before the alarm had been raised. In fact, even as late as August, people were being arrested for trying to exchange those Greenock notes that had been stolen.

Taken for

One suspect, Henry Saunders, was arrested then freed on lack of evidence and then arrested again. In September 1828 he faced trial, but despite all the witnesses placing him in Glasgow and then leaving Glasgow by a variety of coaches, the verdict came back as Not Proven.

Only one man, William Vyse, seemed to be directly implicated in the robbery, as the man who exchanged £5,000 in Greenock notes at Edinburgh. But in the meantime, he had been tried and convicted of receiving stolen notes from another robbery and given a sentence of 14 years deportation. As far as I can tell, he was never tried for the Greenock robbery.

It's certainly not the biggest bank robbery ever, and maybe not the most sophisticated, but I say hats off to anyone who can repeatedly break into the same bank and then when they finally do rob it, no one notices for twenty four hours.

"Robbery of Greenock Bank," The Times, Saturday 15 March 1828
"Further Particulars," The Hull Packet, Tuesday 25 March 1828
"The Greenock Bank Robbery," Royal Cornwall Gazette, Thursday 30 August 1828
"The Greenock Bank Robbery," The Times, Monday 22 September 1828
Relative value of heist calculated using the Measuring Worth website
Bank note image taken from the British Notes website

Monday, 21 January 2013

Sunday, 20 January 2013

My Icemen

Two men have appeared in the ice and snow outside my window. First, on the back of the wave of ice I posted about yesterday, is a man in a hat and cloak, with his arms in the air. He seems quite happy.

Next, in the patterns of ice melting down my window, is this image of a man with a walking stick next to a crooked tree.

Saturday, 19 January 2013

Wave outside my window

Today, outside my kitchen window, I saw that some ice and snow had formed into the shape of a wave, complete with drop of water frozen mid-fall.

Friday, 18 January 2013

My Snowman

Thursday, 17 January 2013

Sothern and the Spiritualists

In February 1866 a court case attracted the attention of the media, when the popular actor Edward Askew Sothern was libelled in the pages of a Spiritualist newspaper.

The periodical Spritual Times published allegations that Mr Sothern had, during his time as a pretend medium on a travelling show in the United States, abused (sexually, it is supposed) a woman after having put her in a trance.

"We remember Mr Sothern when, as Mr Stuart, he played the "walking gentleman" at Barnum's Museum, and was considered hardly worth his meagre salary of fifteen dollars a week. We also remember the same Mr. Stuart when, as a small actor at some other place of amusement here, he professed to be a mesmeriser. He created quite a sensation by admitting the truth of an accusation brought against him by a certain new actress that he had grievously wronged her after placing her in a state of mesmeric influence."

The case was initially brought against Robert Cooper, the printer and publisher of the Spiritual Times. His defence was that he was in Dublin at the time, and had no idea of what was being published in his own weekly periodical. Additionally, it was merely a reprinting of a letter that had appeared in the New York Sunday Times from 31 December 1865. Notwithstanding Mr Cooper's defence, Mr Sothern eventually accepted an apology from Cooper. Meanwhile, the writer of the piece in question, Mr Coleman, pleaded guilty, and was fined £50.

Additionally, another journal, The Spiritual Magazine had published the allegations with the offending parts blanked out with asterisks. They, too, were forced to apologise in print, which they did in a very backhanded manner, stating that "we entirely repudiate and retract and charge or intention to make a charge on those matters, which were out of the knowledge of the writer of the article, or of any one known to us" but in the following paragraph justify their statements by reminding their readers that "Spiritualism, he [Mr Sothern] says, is a delusion, a snare, and a swindle, and Spiritualists are personally guilty of imbecility, irreligion, fraud, impudent chicanery, and blasphemous indecency."

The story may have ended there, were it not for a very peculiar turn of events.

Barely two days after the court case had ended, on the 11 April 1866, Mr Sothern was served with papers regarding a divorce in which he was named as a co-respondent. A certain Mr Robertson, from the United States, wished to dissolve his marriage on grounds of adultery, naming Mr Sothern as the third party involved.

However, right from the start, this action had certain aspects that did not make sense. For a start, ten years had passed since the adultery was alleged to have taken place and Mr Robertson admitted he had no money with which to serve papers. In his affidavit he describes how a stranger had approached him. The Era for 8 July 1866 transcribes the section of the affidavit written by Mr Robertson:

"On or about the 6th of April I received a call at the office of the Cash Payment Association (Limited) from Mr Walter Weldon, whom I had never seen or heard of before. He was a total stranger to me. He apologised for introducing so delicate a subject as the domestic affairs of a man to whom he was a stranger, but hoped I would excuse him. He informed me that he called about steps necessary for me to take to procedure a divorce from my wife."

The same issue of The Era, it relates how this same Mr Weldon had written to say that "Robertson's affidavit contains statements respecting him which are wholly untrue, and which he has contradicted on oath."

By the time Edward Sothern appeared in court in mid-July, the case was almost at an end. The judge observed that the petition for divorce seemed to have been presented "under circumstances that would amount to a conspiracy." It was also announced that the petitioner, Mr Robertson, wished to withdraw the accusation.

But the timing of the case, coupled with the curious nature of how the petition was funded and its sudden collapse, raises some questions about how certain members of the Spiritualist movement were unable to forgive Mr Sothern for his time as a fake medium, followed by a successful libel action against two of their most prominent journals.

"Mr Sothern and the Spiritualists," The Era, 18 February 1866,
"Mr Sothern and the Spiritualists," The Era, 11 March 1866,
"Mr Sothern and Spiritualism," The Spiritual Magazine, 1866, New Series Vol 1, p143
"Cout of Probate and Divorce," The Morning Post, 4 July 1866
"Robertson v. Robertson and Sothern," The Glasgow Daily Herald, 6 July 1866
"Lord Dundreary and his Persecutors," The Era, 8 July 1866
"Mr Sothern in the Divorce Court," The Taunton Courier, 18 July 1866

Monday, 14 January 2013

Life Drawing 14/1/13

Quite a good session today. There was one guy today (I think I've seen him before) who just did tiny doodle-type drawings in the corner of his A3 sheet, and spent most of the pose with the female model just staring at her.

Saturday, 12 January 2013

Chess problems in poetry

The following poem, attributed to "M.E.Y." from Middle Temple, descibes a game of Chess between two Persians said to have taken place in the tenth century. One player, white, had lost steadily throughout that game and had subsequently lost more and more of his wealth in bets. Right at the end, he wagers the hand of his wife.

At this point, from a room above, comes the voice of his wife (who was clearly the better chess player of the two) giving him advise on how to win the game. I thought it quite a neat way to present a chess puzzle.

For those who don't care for poetry, the hint is in the final verse, alongside an illustration the position of the game.

The Persian Gamester

Where the stream of Solofrena
Winds along the silent vale;
Where the palm trees softly murmur,
Waving to the gale.

By the myrtie woven windows
Of an old romantic feat,
Sat at Chefs two noble Persions,
Shelter'd from the scorching heat.

Here with beating brest, Alcanzor
View'd the deep eventful play,
Here with black o'er-arching eye-brows
Sat the Caliph Mahmed Bey.

But with wary eye the Persian
Arks each passion of the heart;
And the gallant brave Alcanzor
Yields, a victim to his art.

Soon his ancient store of treasures.
Soon his wealth and wide doman,
Soon the glories of his Fathers
Fall – the crafty Caliph's gain.

Now he maddens as the lion
Raging thro' the desert grove;
Now with desperate death he pledges.
Zaida's beauty, Zaida's love.

Mohmed-Bey the offer seizes,
Triumph glistens in his eyes.
Ah! Rash youth, that thou hadst never
Dar'd to risk so fair a prize!

For impending ruin threatens
To devote the hapless love:
But what piercing accents issue
From the latticed height above?

'Tis the beauteous Zaida crying,
Half-distracted – "Oh! My life,
"To thy foe concede thy Castle,
"And from death preserve thy Wife!"

The Monthly Magazine, May 1800, Vol 9:1, p365
However, Michael J Franklin writes in his book "Orientalist Jones: Sir William Jones, Poet, Lawyer, and Linguist, 1746-1794" (2011) that the poem predates 1800. It may be worth noting that later that year, in the Derby Mercury from 6 November 1800, the poem is reproduced on page three but with the attribution to "M.E.Y." missing.

Thursday, 10 January 2013

A list of punchlines

In 1967, a book called "The Cartoonists and Gag Writers' Handbook" by Jack Markow was published. It described various techniques for writing and drawing comic strips, especially single frame comics with a witty caption.

Markow explains that there are three main archetypes of these kinds of comic strip: The Hidden Element, where the reader can see what the protagonist can't; The Reversal, where a character says something unexpected; and The Understatement.

He also kindly lists, across ten pages, a number of potential punchlines for single-frame comics. I was surprised at the idea of listing punchlines with no context. I was also surprised at how well these sentences suggest potential comic strips by themselves. Here are my favourites.

Why don't you watch where you going?
What time does the main feature start?
I just washed my hair and can't do a thing with it.
You mean, this old rag?
Am I boring you?
Pretend you don't notice him.
I can lick him with my eyes shut.
Why don't you pick on someone your own size?
Take your dirty hands off me!
Get a load of this.
Of all the things to stuff down my throat.
Unaccustomed as I am to public speaking...
It's the eternal triangle.
Lately, I've felt we've been slipping apart.
Funny weather we're having lately.
Separate cheques?
Where is everybody?
You hold down the fort while I'm out.
Sir, you're speaking of the woman I love.
It's been done.
She reminds me of someone but I can't think who.
A simple yes or no will be sufficient.
I'm just browsing.
I think Dobson is overstepping his authority.
It's a boy.
This is just one of those days when everything seems to go wrong
Dear Diary...
Break it up, fellas, break it up.
Where were you on the night of Jan 22?

Markow, J., (1967) "The Cartoonists and Gag Writers' Handbook," The Writer's Digest

Wednesday, 9 January 2013

An Unsolved Mystery in Chiswick

On New Year's Day 1890, a maid living at 31 Linden Gardens, Chiswick, London returned from a trip to Scotland to find her mistress, Margaret Louise Bryden, dead. She was in the back bedroom, which was not her usual bedroom, fully clothed, on her back on the bed with her head hanging back over the edge. Forced into her mouth was some cloth – the bag for her dressing gown.

Front page illustration with drawing of 31 Linden Gardens

Mrs Bryden had seperated from her husband and lived alone with her maid, Margaret Fleming. There were three witnesses who gave evidence about the happenings of New Year's Eve: Ida Trump, a servant living at same house as Mrs Bryden; John Hewett, a plain-clothes policeman who was in the vicinity; and Emily Jane Carter, Mrs Bryden's neighbour.

At half past ten Ida Trump left to post a letter. She met Mrs Bryden at the front door and Mrs Bryden asked that if Ida saw a policeman on the High Street to bring him to the house. Ida did not see one and so returned. When she came back she could hear a man's voice from the drawing room.

Ida was curious to know if the man was a policeman so she waited, and saw a short man in a dark overcoat and oval hat walk down the steps (ie, the steps outside the front door.)

At ten to eleven, PC John Hewett was walking down Linden Gardens when Margaret Bryden asked him to get another policeman since she was alone and nervous. Hewett explained he could not stay with her and this conversation took place "in the front door", according to Hewett. He said that Bryden seemed sober and he left at 10.55

On questioning, Ida Trump said PC Hewett was similar to the man she saw, but felt that the policeman was taller.

Emily Jane Carter said she'd heard voices at eleven o'clock and had seen a man outside, but thought it was a policeman.

No. 31 is in the bottom right corner of Linden Gardens

Initially, the verdict was misadventure and the mysterious death was considered "solved". Mrs Bryden, although just 39 was not in good health and had false teeth, and it was surmised that "the lady had been suffocated by swallowing her false teeth, which were found in her gullet. It is supposed that having swallowed her teeth accidentally, she placed the night-dress case in her mouth, either in order to vomit or secure a better hold of the teeth, and died before she could accomplish her purpose, from suffocation."

There were no marks of violence on the body, her clothing was not in disarray, there was no sign of anyone else having been in the room, and the man that Ida Trump saw must've been the policeman Hewett.

The doctor who'd been on the scene, and who pulled the cloth from her mouth (noticing it needed quite a force to get it free) said the body was still warm and thought that she had died perhaps five hours earlier. However, he also said that there was nothing wrong with her teeth and he failed to notice that they were false.

Dr Dodsworth conducted a post-mortem. He felt that the false teeth were too large to be swallowed and he also thought that the bag for a dressing gown was an odd thing to push into your mouth to try and fish out your dentures. The jury on the inquest returned a verdict of wilful murder. Over three weeks had passed since the crime, and one member of jury was "strongly of the opinion that the police, late as it is, should begin a vigorous investigation, especially in view of certain rumours now prevalent, but which cannot at present be particularised."

Unfortunately, the newspapers did not report on what these rumours were and how the investigation went. It seems like interest dropped off after the inquest's verdict, since I can't find any more references to the case after the beginning of February. The last date that anyone mentions the case is 2nd February, and one of the articles from that day is titled "Is it to Remain a Mystery?"

"Strange Death of a Lady," Birmingham Daily Post,, Monday, January 6, 1890
"Solution of the Chiswick Mystery," Daily News, Tuesday, January 7, 1890
"Inquests," The Morning Post, Friday, January 10, 1890
"Mysterious death at Chiswick," The Morning Post, Friday, January 24, 1890
"Mystery at Chiswick," Lloyd's Weekly Newspaper, Sunday, January 26, 1890
"Serious Crimes," The Newcastle Weekly Courant, Saturday, February 1, 1890
Front page, The Illustrated Police News, Saturday, February 1, 1890
"Is it to remain a mystery?" Lloyds Weekly Newspaper, Sunday, Feb 2, 1890
Map of Linden Gardens circa 1890 from the website Old Maps

Tuesday, 8 January 2013

Life drawing 7/1/13

First session since the holiday break. A bit rusty. These are the better ones.

Thursday, 3 January 2013

Koehler's influence on my prior beliefs

Perhaps the most important paper on parapsychology in recent years did not appear in a parapsychology journal and it did not concern itself with communicating information via telepathy or influencing random number generators. Instead, it investigated the role of prior beliefs when evaluating new (especially contrary) evidence.

The paper confirmed a number of previous investigations into how people considered the result when deciding on the quality of a scientific paper, but it specifically focused part of its investigation on ESP, and the views of parapsychologists and skeptics.

Koehler made a mailing list of scientists from addresses taken from parapyschological and skeptical organisations and "each scientist was asked to evaluate a hypothetical (but representative) ESP study that either agreed or disagreed with his or her prior beliefs." The hypothetical study in question was a ganzfeld experiment.

The questionnaire and one set of study materials were sent to 195 parapsychologists and 131 skeptics, with a similar return-rate for both (38% and 30% respectively). The quality of the report ("good" or "bad") and the results ("positive" or "negative") varied across four types of reports and additionally some parapsychologist were sent two further types of reports: high or low quality, with no results.

Quality varied according to things like method of randomisation, means of separating the sender and the receiver, and use of blind judges. Respondents completed nine questions using a seven-point scale, and then some open questions deigned to encourage written discussion, and lastly a survey of demographics.

The study found that, as predicted, scientists gave favourable ratings to those experiments whose results reflected their beliefs. Skeptics had a greater tendency to do so, to a marginally significant degree (p less than 0.10)

In the open questions the comments were separated and graded as positive/ neutral/ negative so the percentage of each category given to the high or low quality studies could be measured.

It was found that most comments were negative and high quality studies did not receive significantly fewer negative comments than low quality one. Also, skeptics were less critical of the high quality study than the low quality one. Parapsychologists were equally critical of both in their written responses. This finding seems odd, considering how much skeptics' views were influenced by the results but it could be that, once they'd given a low mark on the 1-7 scale, they were not able to justify their grade in detail.

Koehler's work is one of three scientific papers (the other two are Ioannidis (2005) and the Ignobel-winning Kruger, Dunning (2009)) that made me stop and reconsider my own methods of approaching evidence, and also the methods of those sources that I trusted. It was these that convinced me to use sources as close to first-hand as possible, despite the inconvenience, and to reduce my reliance on commentaries written long after the event. Such commentaries can be useful (after all, I write some myself) but as a beginning of research, not an end.

Ioannidis J.P.A., (2005) "Why Most Published Research Findings Are False." PLoS Med 2(8): e124
Koehler, J.J., (1993) "The influence of Prior Beliefs on Scientific Judgments of Evidence Quality" Organizational Behavior & Human Decision Processes, Vol. 56, p. 28
Kruger, Dunning, (2009) "Unskilled and Unaware of It: How Difficulties in Recognizing One's Own Incompetence Lead to Inflated Self-Assessments," Psychology, 2009, 1, 30-46